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Ireland in the EU - Joining the European Community

Ireland became a member of the European Economic Community in 1973. See below for a brief history of the leadup to Ireland's membership.

See here for more detailed information on the impact of EU membership on different aspects of life in Ireland. Information on how Ireland has contributed to the EU is available here.

The Irish People in the EU page contains some information about Irish people working in the EU and the variety of positions they hold.

Joining the European Community

Signing of the Accession Treaty of Ireland by Patrick Hillery, Minister for Foreign Affairs, and by Jack Lynch, Taoiseach The decision by the vast majority of the Irish people to join what was then the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973 has had an impact on our development as a nation that not even the most optimistic observer of the time could have predicted.

Back then Ireland was regarded by most of the global community as an almost insignificant island, still struggling to find its place in the world more than five decades after gaining independence from the UK.

In the years before becoming a member state, political leaders like Seán Lemass and later Jack Lynch , along with senior diplomats and economists, had argued that Ireland’s future lay within Europe.

However, Europe wasn’t so sure. Ireland’s agricultural based economy was choked by its dependence on the UK market, and the country suffered from poverty, mass unemployment and emigration.

The decision to retain neutrality after the World War II also didn’t go down well with the European community’s NATO members, and our first application to join the EEC on July 31 1961 was rejected just a few weeks later.

The founding six EEC countries expressed doubts about our economic capacity and our neutrality. Ireland’s policy of protectionism, which saw restrictions imposed on imports, certainly wasn’t very appealing to a European community with free trade at its heart.

Leading economists in Ireland had been campaigning for a shift in economic policy and by the early ‘60s many senior politicians were coming around to the idea that it was the only way to tackle the high unemployment and mass emigration that blighted the country.

Ireland continued to press for EEC membership but hopes were crushed in 1963 when then French President, General Charles de Gaulle , made it clear that France didn’t want Britain to join the community.

His stand brought an abrupt end to negotiations with all applicant countries and it was to be another decade before Ireland became a member of the EEC.

A second application in 1967 had been blocked again by President de Gaulle but in 1969 his successor, George Pompidou , promised not to stand in the way of British and Irish membership.

Fresh negotiations began and in 1972 the Treaty of Accession was signed. A referendum held in May 1972 confirmed Ireland’s entry into the European community with 83 per cent of voters supporting membership.

Benefits of EU membership to Ireland

• Irish businesses have unhindered access to a market of over 490 million people

• An estimated 700,000 jobs have been created in Ireland during the years of membership and trade has increased 90 fold

• Foreign Direct Investment in to Ireland have increased dramatically from just €16 million in 1972 to more than €30 billion

• Irish citizens have the right to move, work and reside freely within the territory of other member states

• After joining the then EEC in 1973, Ireland was allocated over €17 billion in Structural and Cohesion funds during the first three decades of membership. It’s estimated that some €3 billion in EU rural development and structural funding will be made available over the period 2007-2013 .

• Between 1973 and 2008 Irish farmers received nearly €44 billion from the Common Agricultural Policy.

• Irish views and interests are reflected in the policies of the EU towards the rest of the world

• EU membership has helped bring peace and political agreement in Northern Ireland through support and investment in cross-border programmes

• The Irish language is an official working language in the EU, which helps to protect the country’s native mother tongue for future generations


• Keogh, Dermot (1997) The Diplomacy of Dignified Calm: An Analysis of Ireland’s Application for Membership of the EEC, 1961-63

• Byrne, David (2004) Ireland and the European Union, The First Thirty Years, 1973-2002

• Hourihane, Jim (2002) The Dynamics of Membership - Thomas Davis Lecture Series, RTE 2002

Last update: 22/04/2014  |Top